By Anshi Shenxing
I almost always encourage people to follow their sense of togetherness.
To me, connectedness is at the heart of Chan practice. It points directly to the truth of things. However, and it’s going to pain me to say this, relying on others for that feeling is just a temporary fix, so I only recommend it up to a point. I value intimacy, but all these intimate connections are impermanent. I value intensity, but passion is impermanent as well. I value creativity, but sometimes that well runs dry.
My instincts tell me to solve that problem by wandering adrift, engaging in one fair weather fling after the other, enlightening—and being enlightened by—the sheer brilliance of lightning love. Instinct tells me to travel, to find Nirvana in roadside diner food, humming wheels, changing landscapes, local music, whiskey, women, weed and wine.
Between the sheets, sweating beneath starlit skies, who isn’t a Buddha?
Yet I know, beneath it all, that none of that will make me happy; seeking connectivity, acceptance, and belonging outside of ourselves eventually causes suffering and confusion. The hardest pill to swallow is that we can’t rely on anyone or anything to make us happy. Those diners sometimes burn their food, and one day they’ll all collapse. Tires go flat, floods and fires decimate the terrain, bands split up, money goes up in smoke, and midnight lovers fade with age.
Even love–genuine, long-lasting love—isn’t a walk in the park. It requires dedication, compromise, and the ability to keep our shit together so that we don’t drag someone else down with us. Life is hard. Feeling connected seems to make it easier, but not always. Especially since people deal with hardship in their own—not necessarily compatible—ways. We can’t control other people. In the end; we can only come to control ourselves.
As Linji quipped, “Just make yourself the master of every situation, and wherever you stand is the true place. No matter what circumstances come, they cannot dislodge you from there.” There’s nothing wrong with connectivity. There isn’t even anything wrong with the romantic image of life I painted above.
But, without self-mastery, everything eventually turns to shit regardless of which path we take in life.
Every second I let myself be led around by circumstances, is a second wasted on sowing and reaping my own suffering. If I really look, if I immerse myself in things as they are, I can see that everything I’m searching for is already within me.
We don’t need other people to feel connected; we don’t need to feel loved to be in love; we don’t need to be accepted to feel accepted. All of those things are within your own mind; the illusion is that they depend on something outside yourself. We just lack faith in ourselves, that’s all. If I depend on anything beyond my own mind for satisfaction, then I’m placing my heart in trembling hands. My well-being and joy are going to be circumstantial.
My priorities in life need to be 1) Untangle myself from my surroundings, and 2) Untangle the surroundings from my views and judgments. That’s basically the path of zhiguan—stop and see meditation.
Untangling myself from my surroundings is stopping, untangling the surroundings from myself is seeing. With that, we’re free from the world and the world is free from us. Then we can stay or go without hindrance. Until then, it doesn’t really matter whether I practice Buddhism, Christianity, Satanism, Scientology or numerology; it doesn’t matter if I’m practical, poetic, mystical, or mundane—all paths lead to suffering. It doesn’t matter if I’m basking in the glow of love and friendship, or trapped in the shadows my own isolation, both situations lead to suffering.
I could be the kindest, most generous person on earth, or the biggest piece of shit you’ve ever met—both lead to suffering.
The way out is the way in.
Without seeking, there’s nowhere we can’t go, no one we can’t be, no joy we can’t experience. Self-mastery is simple. I just have to learn to trust, wholeheartedly, that there’s nothing to do, that I’m already the master of this house. All the teachings on emptiness, Buddha-nature, and suchness are just ways to con us into seeing through our bullshit and trusting ourselves. But once we truly have faith in the bright, shining Mind all beings arise from, then there’s no need for teachings.
Bodhidharma gave us two entrances: principle and practice.
The practice gate is just there to arouse trust in the principle. The principle is that you’re already complete, all things are already complete. For me, this means getting my shit together right now, mastering my mind on the spot. Until I do that, all the paths available to me are going to be shrouded by shadows. Whether I drop off the face of the Earth and join a monastery, get a 9-5 job and start a family, or hit the road and live the Beatnik life—all of it is going to be marked by restlessness and dissatisfaction until I hold myself accountable for my own thoughts and feelings.
All I have to do—all any of us have to do—is take that metaphorical leap of faith off the hundred foot pole, trusting that there’s no ground to fall on; trusting that we’ll be able to fly.
Anshi (安狮) is the pen name for a certain Chan Buddhist. He calls his introspective, autobiographical writing, “Living Dharma.” All names are changed to protect the privacy of those involved. If you know who Anshi is, please refrain from telling anyone. Feel free to check out his Facebook page.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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